Homeless services across Australia are scrambling to provide temporary accommodation for those sleeping rough as they are hit by recent wild weather and the icy snap that has marked the beginning of winter.
The chief executive of Wayside Chapel, Pastor Jon Owen, said those sleeping rough in Sydney and other cities in New South Wales had just endured weeks of heavy rain and were now taking frosty temperatures.
“This is a time of year when we will see new faces,” Owen said.
“Even some of the most hardcore people who aren’t ready for housing will come in and say, ‘can I have two or three nights in a hotel room?’ so they can get out of the biting cold.
“Life for those on the streets is very much working out. Where can I go next? We provide a place where they can exhale. There’s the hot showers, hot cups of tea, and a chance to be in a welcoming space. Our dryers are pretty much running non-stop.”
Wayside Chapel provides services for those experiencing homelessness in Kings Cross and Bondi Beach between 9 am and 9 pm, but Owen said it wasn’t just those on the streets who were looking for help at the moment.
People living in low-quality housing and those looking to access other critical health, domestic violence, and support services had also recently arrived seeking help.
“This is New South Wales. We freak out [when there’s cold weather],” he said.
“It’s eight weeks of cold weather, but the houses aren’t insulated properly, we don’t have the right clothes, and we don’t know how to cope.”
Owen said those experiencing homelessness during this time should contact outreach teams to obtain emergency accommodation and ask the local “rough sleeping community” about available services.
Public members looking to help could donate as part of Wayside Chapel’s winter appeal or to the local charity in their area responsible for providing material help.
“Also, urge your local politicians for more support for homelessness services and more public housing construction,” Owen said. “That would be fantastic.”
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In Victoria, Karen Walker, manager of entry points with specialist Victorian homelessness service Launch Housing, said outreach teams began contacting those sleeping rough late last week to offer temporary accommodation.
“We actively try to engage with everyone sleeping rough to offer accommodation in hotels for the duration of the cold snap,” Walker said.
“We’ve had a reasonably good uptake from people sleeping rough; we’ve popped about 80 people into hotels during the week across inner city Melbourne and the greater Dandenong area.”
She said those who needed urgent assistance with temporary accommodation in Victoria should call 1800 825 955.
Walker said members of the public who met someone sleeping rough could call services like Launch Housing,. Their outreach teams will try to contact the person, or they may consider donating to a local charity that provides material support.
“The best people can do reach out to chat with the human being in front of them and ask about what they can do to help,” Walker said. “Sometimes that may just be buying them a cup of coffee.”
In South Australia, Chris Burns, CEO of the Hutt Street Centre in Adelaide, said local authorities were still deciding whether to call a “code blue” ahead of the weekend on Friday afternoon.
A “code blue” signifies cold weather and prompts response teams or services to react and coordinate with one another, similar to a “code red,” which is called during extreme heat events.
Burns said a code blue had been called earlier last week.
It meant services like the Hutt Street Centre would stay open later into the afternoon for people to have a hot shower, a cup of coffee or soup, and a warm place where they could watch a movie, and would coordinate with other homelessness services in the state.
“We provide blankets and sleeping bags so people can stay warm outside,” Burns said.
“You can imagine in some of the recent nights how cold it is out there; no amount of rugging up can make you feel warm.”